Daedalus, which builds AI-powered precision manufacturing plants, raises $21 million


A young startup founded by one of the first engineers hired by OpenAI is seeking to “redefine manufacturing,” with AI-powered factories to create custom precision parts.

Maze, as the company is called, is based in Karlsruhe in southwest Germany, where its solo factory is currently located. Here, Daedalus receives orders from industries such as medical devices, aerospace, defense, and semiconductor, each requiring unique components for their products. For example, a pharmaceutical company may need a custom metal housing for a valve used in the production of a particular drug.

As it looks to scale up operations with a view to opening additional factories in its domestic market, Daedalus announced today that it has raised $21 million in a Series A funding round led by NGP Capital, financed by Nokiawith participation from existing investors Khosla Ventures and Addition.

This brings Daedalus’ total funding past the $40 million mark, with other notable investors including Y Combinator (YC) getting involved after Daedalus participated in YC’s winter 2020 program.

The Daedalus Factory

The Daedalus Factory Image credits: Daedalus

Fragmented manufacturing

The manufacturing industry — particularly with regard to the manufacturing of precision parts — is extremely fragmented by pretty much all estimates. Although it is tempting to imagine that a typical manufacturing setup in 2024 is akin to that of a large automobile assembly plant, this actually only applies when high-volume products (like cars) are involved – the reality is somewhat different when you look at it. the level of precision of parts used in industrial machines.

A company that has been designing industry-specific valves for decades probably won’t make everything in-house itself. It will usually rely on a network of old-fashioned manufacturers, which may involve working with a small company consisting of a single expert “craftsman” and a handful of assistants working in a small facility.

“That means they’re not doing much in terms of digitalization, and it’s hard to change that because they’re just used to working with pen and paper,” said the Daedalus founder and CEO. Jonas Schneider told TechCrunch. “So there are very low-tech manufacturers supplying the most critical components for these extremely high-end products.”

Jonas Schneider, founder and CEO of Daedalus

Jonas Schneider, founder and CEO of Daedalus Image credits: Daedalus

Founded in 2019, Daedalus uses commercially available hardware similar to that of any manufacturer, but what makes it special is the software it deploys to control and optimize “the shop floor”, i.e. that it automates many manual tasks. involved in the production of a particular part. So, a customer will send in their CAD (computer-aided design) drawings as usual, and Daedalus will develop those drawings into a finished part with automation pervasive in the process.

“It’s about orchestrating all workflows throughout production, planning and ordering those who work in the factory to do the work,” Schneider said.

For context, when production begins for a new “part” in a machine, dozens of steps and hundreds of decisions are typically involved that impact what tooling will be needed, what parameters to use to create the precise shape and dimensions of the part, and so on. And that’s where Daedalus comes in: its software captures data from manufacturing decisions for a “part” and uses it to guide decisions about how a similar part will be created in the future. So a slightly larger valve, or a valve with an additional fitting, can be essentially the same as an earlier part. Daedalus therefore uses pattern matching to apply this prior knowledge to configure its machines for the new part.

In many ways, Daedalus extends the basic concept of 3D printing, who democratized the manufacturing process for over a decade. But with the intelligence of machine learning under the hood, it takes things to the next level – it’s like 3D printing on steroids.

“The comparison is very apt: as an outsider to this industry in the early days, it seemed to me that custom manufacturing had [already] was solved with 3D printing. But it mostly depends on the technical limitations of the process,” Schneider said. “With 3D printing, that always means you have to design a new part specifically so that it can be 3D printed, and that ends up being quite an expensive process. But for the vast majority of the industrial base, it’s not really feasible, and they can’t do 3D printing because it’s not precise enough or the materials aren’t strong enough.

In a sense, what we’re doing is taking this idea of ​​3D printing and applying it to high-end, industrial-grade parts.

The story so far

Before Daedalus, Schneider was a technical lead at OpenAI, where he was instrumental in launching the company’s robotics division in 2016. Indeed, OpenAI might be best known today for its Flagship AI chatbot ChatGPTbut the company also operated a robotics unit that conducted research on topics such as solve a Rubik’s Cube with a robotic handa project which Schneider was directly involved.

The hand of OpenAI's Rubik's Cube

The hand of OpenAI’s Rubik’s Cube Image credits: OpenAI

OpenAI finally I disbanded this team in 2021, but Schneider had led the software engineering side of operations for more than three years before leaving to launch Daedalus in 2019.

Although there are various reasons why Schneider ended up leaving to start his own startup. He had an experience building the Rubik Cube hand that played a small role in his decision to cast Daedalus.

“At one point the robot hand broke and we had to source replacement parts,” Schneider said. “And guess what? They had to be manufactured with precision. So there were machines like ours today, but you had to wait months to get those parts. And I wondered: why is it so difficult to getting replacement parts here?All of this got me to look a little more into this whole maker space.

For now, Daedalus has a single 50,000 square foot factory in Karlsruhe, from where it largely targets German-speaking markets, including Austria and Switzerland. In the short term, there are plans to open a second factory in Germany and then further afield if there is sufficient demand.

“It’s the blueprint factory, isn’t it?” This is where we learn all the systems and all the knowledge and distill it into how we produce these parts,” Schneider said. “And then, in the long term, we will put these factories where our customers need them.”


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